It all started with some heavy breathing.
I approached my Return To Earth band mate and longtime collaborator Brett Aveni about doing a Q*Ball song together back when this whole Q*Ball Collaboration thing started in early 2010. This isn't our first run at it - Brett co-wrote and played guitar on "Baby You Drive Me Crazy" from my This Is Serious Business album, and he performed on the title track and "Baked On The Freeway." Brett and I were also in a band for 4 years together before Q*Ball even existed. So doing a new song together seemed like old hat - only things had changed for both Brett and I since This Is Serious Business.
Return To Earth, our hard rock project with Coheed and Cambria's Chris Pennie, had signed with Metal Blade after self-releasing our first album of hard rock tunes. Here, I was strictly a vocalist - no loops, no funky bass lines, or songs about music and pizza boys or my bald heroes. And I was singing my balls off. I could say the same for myself as a vocalist - tho I've shown glimmers of the style I employ in RTE in various Q*Ball songs, the intensity levels are incomparable, not to mention my approach when it comes to singing and creating melody lines. I was starting to think of my voice as another instrument rather than a complement to the instruments, a common theme on the last few Q*Ball songs I've released.
RTE showcases a different side of Brett's songwriting and production skills, too. Brett & I were still coming off the high of completing our second RTE album, plus Brett and Chris were in the middle of working on their orchestral project, Fight Mannequins, when we decided to get together. Brett had come up with a somewhat cheezy little drum and synth bass riff that he played for me when I arrived at his home studio in NJ. He affectionately titled this session 'Bald Disco' (that sounds like a future Q*Ball album title to me, at least). The title, while not a keeper, was indicative of Brett's willingness to write a "Q*Ball song", and I liked his approach. Again, we went at it with no preconceived notions or restrictions - just write, build out the parts, arrange, rearrange, until it sounds like the song we want it to sound like. So rather than scrap the riff because it was a bit too light, I decided we should heavy it up. Sometimes it's not about the mix or the program as much as the notes and the order they're played in. There was something there in that "bald disco", we just had to reinvent it as "bald electro-metal".
Cue the heavy breathing.
Brett was at the controls, which is always a relief, as I can concentrate strictly on making the music. I've been more inclined to pick up a microphone before I plug in a keyboard these days, so I started there, and in an effort to give the song some darker textures, I started doing a rhythmic pervert-sicko-on-the-phone sort of vocal line that had a nice vibe with Brett's 'Spy Hunter'-style loop. We tracked it and kept it - then, as I was about to unpack my analog boards, Brett stopped me, insisting we had enough virtual synths to do the necessary work.
Turns out he was right, and my boards stayed in their cases - Brett would add a line, I would add a line, all on the same controller keyboard and with a ton of different sounds at our disposal. Intimidating, but fun. Sometimes more choices is too many choices, but I came up with a Knight Rider-inspired synth line that complemented the Aveni-created rhythm section well. From there, the song takes its evil turn, as we brought the breathing line in and layered a bunch of evil cellos and some NIN-esque synth drums.
We both loved the dynamic change, as it reminded us of the work we had done in RTE, with more of an electronic bent. Brett added some Edge-style guitar in the verses and Chris would later add live drums and a few loops to give the song some needed 'oomph'.
"The Night Stalker" was a title I had in my head for awhile. I was a big fan of the 1970s TV series starring Darren McGavin, and the TV movie that inspired it. My Dad would splash water on my face when I was a kid to wake me up so I could watch it on late-night TV, which made it that much more spooky to me. I owe my love of The Honeymooners, The Twilight Zone, and most of the classic Universal monster movies to my Dad's unique alarm clock technique (thanks Dad, you're the best). The lyrics are inspired by Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, and especially Jack The Ripper. Basically about a misguided pursuit that ends badly, tho the protagonist feels that it's no fault of his own because he has class and passion. For the hook, I decided to use a very non-commercial refrain of "I'm Fucking Innocent" to convey the idea that the killer is adamant that he's not at fault and rather his victims are. The word "fucking" is violent in nature, it has impact, and it fits the vibe. I envisioned the killer writing it repeatedly in blood on a wall or scrawling it obsessively on a notepad, which in turn, inspired the very killer cover art by Bald Freak's graphics guru, John Bryan.
As the song took form, I had an inkling that I'd like to release this in October, for obvious reasons. I always toyed with the idea of doing a Halloween-themed Q*Ball album (someday it shall be done). This is my favorite time of year, my favorite holiday, and I've long been a fan of dark, spooky fare, be it movies, music, or television shows. Special thanks to the mighty Bumblefoot for mixing and mastering this puppy while on the road in Europe in order to get it out during the month in which it most deserves to be released. Hope you enjoy. Happy Halloween.
Coming in November: moody melancholy with Chris Pennie